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Now is the perfect time to preserve family memories

The Kuntz Family of PK Lumber Company has donated their home movies to Dayton History. This image is from 1942. CONTRIBUTED
The Kuntz Family of PK Lumber Company has donated their home movies to Dayton History. This image is from 1942. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Recordings of family celebrations can be both art and history

Many people are taking advantage of extra time at home to sort through the boxes of stuff accumulated in attics and basements over the years. At the top of that “to do list” are irreplaceable family photos, old home movies and videos.

“Most people probably have an assortment of 8 mm, VHS, Hi8, DVD and chip cards,” says Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History, whose organization — in addition to collecting commercial footage of historic Dayton events like the 1913 flood, Rike’s Christmas parades, the NCR factory and PGA tournaments — is now starting to receive home movies as well.

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“They are wonderful,” says Kress. “Family picnics, vacations, holidays, sporting events.”

Any reel of actual film is made up of thousands of small photos. “We safeguard close to two million photos in our collection, not including the motion pictures which contain thousands more,” says Kress. “All of those photos capture not just a moment in time, but — strung together into motion — capture human movement, expression, customs, gestures, reactions, the mechanical action of machines, and transportation locomotion. Only some of that is captured by a single still shot.”

The Kuntz Family of PK Lumber Company has donated their home movies to Dayton History. This image is from Easter in 1924. CONTRIBUTED
The Kuntz Family of PK Lumber Company has donated their home movies to Dayton History. This image is from Easter in 1924. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Kress and his colleagues encourage the community to take and preserve home movies. “In a virtual world nothing is permanently captured unless it’s nurtured and backed up to the next technology,” he says. “There is an unbelievable amount of footage being captured every second with so many people on the planet walking around with their own movie studio in their pockets, on their dashboards, or watching from doorbells.”

Save some of it, Kress urges. “In the future, the actions, phrases, speech patterns, and movements of today will be studied. I’d love to hear what Wilbur Wright, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and John Patterson’s voices sounded like, not to mention what their family picnics were like.”

Curtis Media Transfer in Huber Heights specializes in turning old home movies into DVDs. CONTRIBUTED
Curtis Media Transfer in Huber Heights specializes in turning old home movies into DVDs. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Preserving our films for the future

Cheryl and Robert Curtis, owners of Curtis Media Transfer in Huber Heights, offer a service that ensures old home movies will be preserved.

In business for 19 years, the company now services customers throughout the country and around the globe. Cheryl says customers have been contacting them since the pandemic for two main reasons. “Some of them want us to transfer right away so they can enjoy their films while they’re staying at home,” she says. “Other people have been procrastinating and now have a lot of time and are going through old stuff, cleaning things out, organizing.”

The couple and their employees spend their days with 8-mm and 16-mm film, audio cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes, LP’s, 35-mm slides, VHS-VHS-C’s, Mini-DV’s and Video 8 tapes. A small portion of their store lobby is the “museum,” filled with nostalgic donations from their customers. “Many pieces have beautiful stories accompanying them,” Cheryl says. “We are proud to display them and our customers enjoy reminiscing when entering the store.”

Cheryl and Robert Curtis have been in business for 19 years and now serve customers around the world.  A corner of their shop is a "museum" display. CONTRIBUTED
Cheryl and Robert Curtis have been in business for 19 years and now serve customers around the world. A corner of their shop is a "museum" display. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

The company got its start when Cheryl and Robert, both photographers, stumbled on old audio reel-to-reels that belonged to Cheryl’s grandfather. “My husband has always found electronics fascinating and he found a reel-to-reel deck at a garage sale and played the tapes,” she recalls. “Then he researched how to transfer so we could hear them.”

When they began offering the service to others, it took off. “We’ve noticed that whether it’s 1940 or 2005, people cover the same events — birthdays, bar mitzvahs, weddings, Christmas and Easter,” Cheryl says. “We change it from analog to digital, we do a lot of 8 and 16 mm films,” she explains. “We digitize it on DVD, an external hard drive or flash drive. We use archival DVDs and once you have digitized something it can be transferred to the cloud or whatever else comes down the pike.”

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For those who want to keep the original film as well, the advice is to keep it at a comfortable temperature. The metal cans accelerate deterioration, so punch holes in the cans, they suggest. “Sometimes you can find old projectors, but the bulbs are now very expensive and do not last long.”

Although the shop had to close for a period of time because of the pandemic, it is now open again, located at 7089 Taylorsville Road in Huber Heights. The web site is curtismediatransfer.com

Home movies as art

When New York’s Museum of Modern Art reopened in October, 2019, one of the featured exhibitions — “Private Lives Public Spaces” — became the museum’s first exhibition devoted to home movies and amateur films as a cinematic art form. In much the same way, it’s been fun to peer into other people’s homes on our Zoom calls, the old home movie clips provide an intimate look at the personal lives of others.

The MOMA show, which will be on display through February once the museum reopens, features mostly silent home movies shot between 1907 and 1996 and also includes displays of movie cameras from the past.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has an exhibition of home movies entitled “Private Lives Public Spaces.” This image of the Jarret family from 1958-67 is digital preservation of Standard 8 mm film. CONTRIBUTED/MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
The Museum of Modern Art in New York has an exhibition of home movies entitled “Private Lives Public Spaces.” This image of the Jarret family from 1958-67 is digital preservation of Standard 8 mm film. CONTRIBUTED/MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

Credit: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

Credit: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

“We view home movies as works of moving image art to be studied and watched on their own merits,” explains curator Ron Magliozzi. “Home movies are democratic, personal, self-made and unregulated — the true people’s cinema. We believe they may be the largest body of moving image work created in the 20th century.”

Magliozzi says home movie makers are about people filming what they love — family members relaxing in the yard, neighborhood dance parties, the sky at sunset. The home movies in MOMA’s collection initially arrived as individually curated selections. Early home movies in the exhibition were made by film studio executives at the Biograph company in New York who used the company cameras and cameramen to shoot their families on film sets during off hours. “These were made with large 35 mm cameras that only professional filmmakers had access to at the time,” explains Magliozzi. In 1922-23 in France (Pathe) and America (Kodak) “non-theatrical” gauge 16 millimeter cameras were marketed to the public, he says.

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The MoMA exhibit features 16-mm home movies shot by wealthy families of the 1920s and 1930s. In 1964, smaller gauge, significantly less costly 8-mm cameras were introduced, followed by Super 8 which allowed for sound. “This opened the market to virtually any amateur,” says Magliozzi. “Average folks and those who eventually became professional artists made home movies. Because so many home movies survive by accident after years of neglect and poor storage, film decomposition is common and visually interesting if not quite beautiful, creating accidental links to Abstraction and Impressionism. Light leaks, snagged frames and blurred subjects create an ‘accidental’ avant-garde aesthetic.”

Because most people don’t have the projectors and VHS players to view old home movies, they often neglect or destroy them. Many that have been sitting in someone’s closet or attic for decades and have become brittle or crumbled.

“Those are captured moments in time lost forever,” Magliozzi says. “With folks engaging less with others outside of the home and exploring their home environment, it’s likely many are coming across their amateur films and home movies. We’d like them to be aware that what they find is worth taking seriously. Whether shot on film, video or in digital form, people should consider their long-term care and preservation. Getting film and video copied to digital is becoming easier. People should consider gifting the original 16 mm, 8 mm, Super 8, 9.5 mm, video to cultural institutions, historical societies and museums with preservation programs to assure their home movies aren’t eventually ‘orphaned.’ They are gifts to future generations.”